On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
APR 27 2016
PHOTOGRAPHS BY EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES
LINEBACKER / DETROIT LIONS
Grow a pair!
These are insults that are so commonplace that we have all encountered them at some point, be it on a playing field, in a locker room or in any other situation where being “strong” and “tough” is paramount. They’re all based on the generally accepted premise that the worst thing you can do/say to a man is to question his masculinity.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that I really considered what’s being communicated when men say things like this to one another. All of these statements are related to a man showing vulnerability or weakness, which is immediately connected to them being feminine. So taking things a step further, if appearing feminine has all of these negative connotations, how does that affect how men view women on a societal level?
It’s truly astounding how many awful things that occur in this world because men are afraid of appearing weak.
So what’s the opposite of weakness? Power.
And oftentimes, how powerful a man is is directly associated with his sexual exploits. And that’s what I’d like to discuss.
The dehumanization and objectification of women are not issues that are specific to male athletes. They are societal problems. But they tend to be more associated with athletes in part because we are often idolized because of our athletic ability. In many ways, we’re considered models of masculinity, which is at the very root of a lot of these issues. So in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to use my platform as an NFL linebacker to discuss how we talk about rape and sexual assault — because not enough men are.
Sexual assault takes many forms, whether it’s a woman assaulting a woman, a man assaulting a man or a woman assaulting a man. For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to focus on the most common form of this crime, which is when a man assaults a woman.
Let me start with clearest version of the message I’d like to communicate:
Consent only occurs when a woman clearly says yes.
Consent is not being naked, it’s not kissing, and it’s not touching or flirting. It’s a clear, freely given yes, which is not the same as the absence of a no.
When I was a freshman in college, I was completely clueless about the true definition of consent, just as I was completely clueless about most things in the world. My first month of school, I remember hearing stories about wild nights in the dorm. One time I heard a group of guys joke about “running a train” on a drunk girl. At the time, my 18-year-old brain didn’t process this as anything bad. Maybe those guys were just engaging in a display of bravado. But what if what they were describing was true? A decade later, I carry guilt for not acting after hearing a story (and many others) that painted a picture of what I would now identify as rape. This speaks to just how toxic and backward the culture around sexual assault still is. I was 18 years old — “man” enough to drive, vote and go to war — but somehow I didn’t have the courage, or the maturity, to see what they were talking about for what it was: a serious crime.
I was pretty ignorant on this topic for a long time. I think a lot of men are, because it’s often talked about as a women’s issue. The focus always seems to be on teaching young women how not to get raped and on what steps they can take to “stay safe.” But why are we not also focused on educating young men about the definition of consent and what constitutes rape? We’re essentially dealing with the problem by telling women to be more careful.
And that’s bullshit.
As a society, we need to get more serious about this. The issue of sexual assault is a lot more nuanced than what most men think. We need to teach young men how to be allies — explain to them the emotional and psychological effects that abuse victims often carry with them for their entire lives. We need men to understand that there are likely women close to them who have experienced an assault and never told a soul.
It’s truly astounding the number of awful things that occur in this world because men are afraid of appearing weak.
When I was younger, I heard racy stories so often that I either thought nothing about what was happening, or dismissed it as “boys being boys.” So this is what’s normal, right? At that age in particular, men are taught that women are essentially trophies. I knew in my heart that what was happening in the stories I was listening to was wrong, but my mind was muddled with what ifs. And I used those what ifs to give guys the benefit of the doubt. And this is the same culture that’s still alive today.
For the last couple of years, as a result of multiple off-the-field issues, the NFL has given players a presentation on domestic abuse and sexual violence. It truly opened my eyes and caused me to reflect. It led me to challenge ideas that I had internalized, that were part of a culture that often turned a blind eye to sexual assault. The what ifs that many of us ponder actually have clear answers:
Using the example I mentioned earlier, what if a woman says yes to letting a handful of strangers engage sexually with her while she’s under the influence of alcohol?
That’s called a gang rape.
What if everyone else was also drunk?
Still a gang rape.
What if everyone was sober, but she said yes — a response that was likely prompted by her fear of the many men in the room?
Yes, still rape.
Bottom of Form
What if she initially said no, but after persistent pushing she eventually says yes?
This is sexual coercion and still qualifies as rape.
Now let’s discuss some of the common ignorant statements and questions that some men use to justify this behavior:
Why would she get so drunk?
Is she not allowed to partake in the same activities that men may deem to be fun? A night of drinking with her friends doesn’t give a man clearance to make assumptions about what a woman wants.
Look at what she’s wearing. She wants someone to get at her.
A woman’s choice of clothing isn’t an open invitation to sex.
But she’s a ho. Just look at how many men she’s slept with?
This is irrelevant. A person’s sexual history is in no way related to their right to consent. Look at how many women you’ve slept with. Do you think that should negatively affect the perception others have of you? I doubt it.
Well, if what she said really happened, why wouldn’t she tell someone?
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), seven out of 10 sexual assaults are never reported. When they are reported, almost 98% of assailants will never spend more than a day in jail. It’s also worth noting that four out of five assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Imagine the horror of having something like this done to you by someone you know -— a person you once trusted or even loved. The embarrassment, guilt, blame and potential shaming that can come about from reporting one of these crimes is a big part of what enables this culture.
My understanding is that most women have heard the talk about how to avoid becoming a victim, but growing up, I was never involved in a conversation about what consent is. I was never even flat-out told not to rape or sexually assault anyone.
It’s important to challenge many of the basic beliefs men have about what their relationships with women should be like. Sexually “conquering” as many women as possible is expected and admired — so much so that there’s often a silent competition amongst groups of males over who can get the most women. An athlete’s sense of entitlement to a woman’s body is exacerbated because he has been idolized and put on a pedestal in a hyper-masculine culture. Not only am I a man, but I am also a strong and successful man. Why would someone say no? You should all want me.
Of course in a broad sense, everyone knows that rape is wrong. But it wasn’t until after I got out of college that I learned exactly what it is, what it looks like, how prevalent it is and how truly damaging it can be. And honestly, I’m still learning.
We need men to understand that there are likely women close to them who have experienced an assault and never told a soul.
Now I’m asking men everywhere to consider the possibility that their mother, sister, girlfriend or grandmother may have experienced a sexual assault at some point in their lives. Personally, I know and love a woman who was a victim of sexual assault, and I suspect other women in my life have also been the victims of assault. When you approach this issue as a mother’s son, or as a partner, or as a sister’s brother, rather than as a bro, it looks very different. But it shouldn’t take a personal relationship to stand up for this.
It’s important for men, especially in a hyper-masculine culture that breeds so many assholes, to stand up and challenge the values that have been passed down to us. This is not just a woman’s problem.
Almost 10 years later, the same ignorance I had as an 18-year-old kid was still apparent in the conversations that I had with colleagues following the presentation on sexual assault.
Victim blaming? Check.
Slut shaming? Yep.
Lack of understanding of what constitutes rape? Absolutely.
Quiet snickering at the idea that a man can also be a victim? Of course.
This isn’t about the NFL. It’s much bigger than that. But I’m asking my fellow athletes to take this opportunity to step up.
Some of the funniest, most insightful and honest conversations I’ve ever had in my life have taken place inside a locker room. But this particular topic is one that has never come up.
As professional athletes, we have the prominence in our communities to effect real change. When we talk, people listen. So in a sense, our general silence on this issue is condoning it.
So let’s change that. Speak out with me. Man up.
DEANDRE LEVY / CONTRIBUTOR
April 27, 2016 Rian Watt
BYRON BUXTON AND THE LONELINESS OF LEARNING ON THE JOB
Byron Buxton was picking at his food. At two other tables in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals' Park, his Twins teammates were seated in small groups, joking in the casual, comfortable, giddily immature manner unique to young men who spend a great deal of time together. Not Buxton, though. He was hunched alone over the hard grey plastic of his table, square shoulders rounded, staring straight down, pushing a small portion of potato chips and mac and cheese from side to side across his plate. On the clubhouse TV, right in front of him, ESPN played highlights of Mike Trout's home run in Los Angeles the previous night.
Later that day, Buxton would smoke a double off of one of Washington's star pitchers, Stephen Strasburg, score a run later that inning, and make two sensational catches in center field. That's the Jekyll side of Buxton, and it's thrilling to watch. Hyde was there, too, though: Buxton struck out four times, all swinging, all ugly, and when the game ended his triple-slash line for the young season was just .156/.208/.289, with no home runs and 24 strikeouts in 49 mostly brutal plate appearances. He was sent to Triple-A the next day.
It wasn't supposed to be this way for Buxton. For all the talk about baseball being a game of failure, prolonged struggles like this aren't easy for anyone, let alone a player so incomparably talented that Baseball America ranked him the top prospect in the sport in 2014, ahead of Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Noah Syndergaard. But, right now, this is Buxton's reality.
"It's a tough game, man," Buxton told VICE Sports at his locker before the game on Sunday afternoon. "I don't pay too much attention to what goes on on social media or what people say. I just focus on what I can do and what I'm here to do." Which, lest we forget, is hit: Buxton was called up to the majors with great fanfare last June, at the age of 21, more or less to be the savior of a Twins franchise that found itself muddling through a division dominated by the Royals. At the time, they were neither good enough to contend with the eventual world champs nor bad enough to conduct a full teardown and rebuild; the idea was that Buxton could be the difference. Those weren't fair expectations in the least, but the Twins weren't in the mood to worry much about that.
Buxton, understandably enough, crumbled under that pressure. His big league line settled at .209/.250/.326, which was well below league average and in a different universe than the mind-boggling .400/.441/.545 he'd hit at Triple-A Rochester earlier that same year. His talent was unmistakable even as he struggled, but Buxton simply could not bring it to bear from one at-bat to the next. Despite the mentorship of respected vets Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter, each of whom knows something about being a top prospect themselves, and one of whom (Hunter) was brought back pretty much exclusively to mentor the kid, Buxton just never quite found a groove. That set up 2016 as a bounceback season, which is the sort of pressure few 22-year-olds have to face. Before the Twins mashed the reset button and returned him to Rochester, the results were distressingly familiar.
"I take advice from everybody and try to use it in my game," Buxton said on Sunday morning. "If it works, it works, and if it doesn't, I don't use it." Which makes perfect sense, except that at the moment a million different people—including the Hall of Famer now managing Buxton's squad, Paul Molitor—are talking, shouting, or whispering in his ear. Each is trying to help him understand how to bring to bear the extraordinary physical tools that that carried him so quickly through the minors. Some may even be right. But also that's a lot of noise.
"It's hard to play when you're trying to be somebody you aren't, and it just puts more pressure on you," Buxton said. "Me trying to get more and more every day back to myself is what I'm trying to do." That sounds about right: stay true to yourself, and take advice from everyone, and be polite with the media, and take care of your young son (Brixton, age 3), and oh, yeah, hit big-league pitching every day. It's that simple.
Which is to say that it's not simple at all. Those thoughts about staying true to yourself are probably best understood as those of an honest young man grasping at straws, trying as hard as he can to do the right thing and say the right thing while doing it, and nonetheless finding himself wholly unable—for the first time in what has otherwise been a brilliantly successful career—to make things right. Buxton is young, but he's pro enough to know the right things to say, and how to say them the right way. That's a different thing than knowing the answers.
Fact is, he'll probably be fine, when all is said and done. Players with Buxton's range of physical tools—his blazing speed, his sharply intelligent routes in center, his quick wrists at the plate—are exceedingly rare, and they don't usually fail in the long run. Even Mike Trout, the player to whom Buxton is most frequently compared, hit .220 his first season in the Show. Buxton mentioned that he had heard from Trout, and from Bryce Harper, too, about the struggles of being gifted in the major leagues. I didn't get the impression that they had helped him much. "You need to fail to succeed up here, man," Buxton said, and failure is a solitary game. There's no easy way to learn that.
Athletes' privacy rights questioned at Krakauer hearing
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BOZEMAN — Should intercollegiate athletes have diminished expectations of privacy? Bestselling author Jon Krakauer and his attorney, Mike Meloy of Helena, say yes.
At the heart of Krakauer’s wide-ranging argument for the release of documents related to the decision to vacate former Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson's expulsion after university proceedings found him guilty of sexual assault in 2013 is the contention that student-athletes aren’t subject to privacy laws due to their status as public figures.
Krakauer and Meloy argued that case Wednesday to the Montana Supreme Court during a records request hearing at the Strand Union Building at Montana State University.
“(Johnson) was the most famous person in Montana from 2011 to 2014,” Krakauer said after the hearing. “He became a public figure. Everything about this alleged sexual assault — except what happened after the Commissioner (of Higher Education) got it — is made public.
“Jordan Johnson’s alleged privacy is keeping us from knowing that. But he doesn’t have privacy anymore. His privacy vanished. You can’t enforce privacy that doesn’t exist.”
The argument is integral to Krakauer’s lawsuit against the Montana University System and Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian to make public all documents pertaining to the reversal of Johnson’s expulsion after the football star was acquitted of sexual intercourse without consent in Missoula County District Court in 2013.
In 2014, Helena District Judge Kathy Seeley ordered Christian to allow Krakauer to inspect the documents. The Montana University System is appealing that decision to the Supreme Court citing FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits such disclosures.
Krakauer and Meloy argue that because Johnson signed a student-athlete code of conduct agreement at UM he waived his right to privacy.
“When a student-athlete signs (a) code of conduct, they acknowledge that because they participate in intercollegiate sports they’re subjected to pretty intense public scrutiny,” Meloy said, responding to a question posed by Justice Laurie McKinnon.
“That is, the press covers them. When they do a good job they get good publicity, when they do a bad job they get dissed. And they have to expect that that’s going to happen, and they have to acknowledge that they are losing some rights when they become a student-athlete because of that scrutiny.”
Attorney Vivian Hammill, representing the state, disagreed.
“(The law) specifically prohibits the university from entering into a contract that waives a student’s right to privacy,” Hammill told the court. “The athletic code is merely aspirational. That’s all it is. Athletes, no matter what sport they’re in, don’t lose their privacy rights by enrolling in the Montana University System. Laws do trump the right to know.”
Krakauer, the bestselling author of “Into the Wild,” “Where Men Win Glory” and “Into Thin Air,” released a book titled “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” last April. It chronicles the Johnson case, as well as other reports of sexual assault at UM.
Johnson, a native of Eugene, Ore., was accused of sexual assault in 2012 and was found guilty by a student conduct court at the University of Montana based on a preponderance of evidence. He was later found not guilty in a jury trial.
What happened next? No one knows, except that Johnson’s expulsion was reversed by Christian and rescinded by UM president Royce Engstrom. Johnson’s enrollment was reinstated in the fall and he returned to the football team in time for the 2013 season.
Krakauer wants to know the hows and whys of that process.
“This isn’t about Jordan Johnson,” Krakauer said. “We’re interested in what the commissioner did.”
In February of this year, Johnson reached an out-of-court settlement for $245,000 to drop his lawsuit against the State of Montana and the University System.
APR 26, 2016
Statheads Are The Best Free Agent Bargains In Baseball
By Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur
The Cubs’ brain trust, seen here during the 2015 NLCS, is but one of the MLB front offices deeply influenced by sabermetrics in recent years. JULIE JACOBSON / AP
It’s getting more and more crowded on baseball’s bleeding edge. As sabermetrics has expanded to swallow new disciplines and data sets,1 the number of quantitative analysts in MLB front offices has multiplied to keep up, producing an army of number crunchers, modelers and decision scientists who would have seemed out of place at the ballpark even a decade ago.
Because we, too, are statheads at heart, we’ve mined the data and charted the proliferation of these numbers-savvy front-office staffers over time. Yes, there are more of them now than ever, and yes, they’ve had a demonstrable effect on their teams’ fortunes. But contrary to the “Moneyball”-era hand-wringing about battles between scouts and statheads, their rise hasn’t come at the expense of old-school analysis. Rather, the two main points of contention are how much the “Moneyball” mindset has spread from the game’s most frugal teams to the richest ones; and why the front-office hiring boom hasn’t helped its gender diversity.
You’re gonna need a bigger budget
To track the expansion of baseball’s R&D departments, we took three snapshots of MLB staffs by studying cached online directories and team media guides from 2016, 2012 and 2009 — the first year for which media guides are widely available from MLBpressbox.com — and consulting with current and former front-office employees. We limited our sample to full-time employees (sorry, interns and consultants),2 and tried to maintain a consistent, fairly strict definition of what constitutes a quant: a “baseball operations” employee who spends a majority of his or her work hours either directing a quantitative department or doing statistical research, data processing or programming to support the team’s analytical efforts.
Naturally, our task occasionally required some informed speculation. “Analytics” and “analyst” are slippery terms, particularly because most front-office employees are multitaskers who contribute to more than one department. Many teams are also guarded in how they describe (or don’t describe) their employees’ roles and responsibilities. But even with all those caveats, we’re confident that we’ve arrived at a roughly accurate accounting of MLB’s quant army.
And our numbers reveal that baseball’s analytical arms race is proceeding at a pace only slightly slower than Moore’s law. Although the analytical gold rush began before the period we examined, hiring has accelerated at an almost exponential rate over the last few years. In 2009, the first season of our sample — which was several years after “Moneyball” became a best-seller — a total of 44 team employees fit our “quant” definition, and at least a third of teams had yet to assign a single full-time employee primarily to statistical work. By 2012, the number had climbed to 75, and only four teams had no quants. Four years after that, the analyst count has more than doubled again, to 156, and nowadays no team operates without some semblance of an R&D department. 3
Nor is there any indication that we’re approaching a plateau. A number of teams told us they expected to add more analysts soon; we’re aware of at least 12 open positions across MLB. And because the litany of prerequisite degrees and programming languages seems to grow with each listing, it seems certain that the average analyst also has a more impressive résumé today than in the past.
To the statheads went the spoils
The biggest benefits of buying into objective analysis were probably reaped around the time “Moneyball” was published, when a lot of the low-hanging fruit was still attached to baseball’s most rigid branches. Simple lessons such as “on-base percentage matters more than batting average” still eluded many front offices, and numerous talented analysts whose work would later be exclusive to one team were still posting their insights publicly on message boards or sites such as Baseball Prospectus.
Even though some of the initial rewards had already been realized by 2009, there were still significant gains to be made by semi-early adopters. To measure them, we built a model estimating how good a team was before its front-office hires, using the following factors for each team: its winning percentages over the previous three seasons, its payroll and market size and its Baseball America farm-system ranking. Using these variables, we generated an expected winning percentage for each team over the following three seasons, beginning with the two historical years for which we had analyst counts (2009 and 2012).
The takeaway: It paid to invest in analytics early. Teams with at least one analyst in 2009 outperformed their expected winning percentage4 by 44 percentage points over the 2012-14 period, relative to teams who didn’t — an enormous effect, equivalent to more than seven extra wins per season. That might be overstating things a bit — the precise advantage varies depending on how the analysis is structured — but over most permutations of the model we tried,5 the effect was consistently stronger than two wins per season, particularly for the earliest-adopting teams, which got a head start by implementing analytics before 2009.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that sabermetrics conferred such a first-mover advantage. As a thought experiment, let’s assume the typical modern analytics department contains five people (156 staffers leaguewide, divided by 30 teams). If the two most senior members of the department earn $100,000 a year and the remaining members make half that, the yearly price would come to $350,000. Putting aside overhead costs,6 that outlay still lags behind the MLB’s minimum salary for a single player — chump change in a sport where the average franchise is valued at 10 figures.
For such a relatively small expenditure on analysts, even the minimum estimate of two extra wins per year would represent a return roughly 30 times as efficient as spending the same amount on the free-agent market. (It would be like the Chicago Cubs signing outfielder Dexter Fowler not for the $13 million he’s actually making but for what it would take to pay a player who just made his big-league debut.) At that rate, there’s plenty of room for front-office inflation to continue before teams run into diminishing returns.
The rich are getting smarter
Although the big-budget Boston Red Sox were also one of the first teams to demonstrate that an analytics department could help win a World Series,7 a number of low-payroll, small-market teams — including not only the Moneyball A’s, but also the Rays, Indians, Padres and Pirates — were among the first to form quantitative departments and develop systems to house and display statistical data. It made sense: The more pressing a team’s financial imperative to stretch every dollar and wring out every win, the more likely it was to try a new approach.
But that’s no longer true. Although the Rays, who rank 29th in payroll this season, continue to occupy the R&D pole position with a still expanding department of almost 20 statheads — fortunately, Tropicana Field has plenty of quiet, climate-controlled workspace to spare — baseball’s “haves” are no longer have-nots when it comes to statistical expertise. In both 2009 and 2012, teams with low-ranking payrolls tended to employ more analysts. But in 2016, the balance of analytical buy-in shifts toward big spenders, which might explain why the Rays are having a harder time separating their on-field performance from the pack.
Not only are wealthy teams capable of outspending competitors for free-agent players, but they’ve also become more willing to outbid them for brains. The sport’s two heaviest hitters by payroll, the Yankees and Dodgers, are also the only teams aside from the Rays whose R&D departments have double-digit head counts.
In addition to hiring a large crew of new number crunchers and programmers, the Dodgers have plundered talent from other franchises’ front offices, absorbing not only the former general managers of the Rays (Andrew Friedman), Padres (Josh Byrnes) and Blue Jays (Alex Anthopoulos), but also a former A’s assistant GM, Farhan Zaidi, who joined Oakland as an analyst because “Moneyball” made him want to work in baseball. In particular, LA’s brain trust has devoted its efforts to preserving player health, which Billy Beane has publicly labeled the sport’s most glaring inefficiency. In their quest to curtail injuries, the Dodgers have invested in both computerized systems and human know-how, as well as seeding a sports-oriented startup incubation program.
Stats haven’t killed the scouting star
In the factious days after “Moneyball” was published, the book was often characterized as a prophecy of scouting’s coming extinction. That interpretation was mostly off base, but one passage did strongly imply that the competition for front-office positions was a zero-sum game. In a postscript titled “Inside Baseball’s Religious War,” which appeared in later editions, Michael Lewis wrote that “[J.P.] Ricciardi, the new [Blue Jays] GM, had done what every enlightened GM will eventually do: fire a lot of scouts, hire someone comfortable with statistical analysis … and begin to trade for value, ruthlessly.”
Lewis’s postscript looks ironic in retrospect, for multiple reasons. The deputy he describes as “someone comfortable with statistical analysis” was Keith Law, who has since become ESPN’s lead prospect analyst and spends much of his time scouting players. Moreover, Ricciardi himself was fired in 2009 and replaced by Anthopoulos, who almost immediately embarked on a scout-hiring spree — and shepherded Toronto to more success than it had ever enjoyed under his predecessor.8 Even Beane’s stat-inclined sidekick, Paul DePodesta, later became vice president of player development and scouting for the Mets before switching sports earlier this year.
NUMBER OF FULL-TIME SCOUTING PERSONNEL
TEAM 2009 2016 %CHANGE
WAS 28 47 +67.9%
NYY 45 74 +64.4
SDN 36 55 +52.8
TOR 38 58 +52.6
TBA 43 65 +51.2
ARI 41 61 +48.8
ATL 32 46 +43.8
CHW 32 46 +43.8
LAD 43 61 +41.9
CIN 46 65 +41.3
ANA 34 48 +41.2
MIN 35 46 +31.4
KCA 36 47 +30.6
TEX 38 49 +28.9
MIL 38 48 +26.3
PIT 39 48 +23.1
COL 36 44 +22.2
BOS 59 71 +20.3
CHC 51 60 +17.6
CLE 41 48 +17.1
MIA 38 43 +13.2
STL 39 44 +12.8
DET 40 44 +10.0
OAK 38 40 +5.3
PHI 33 33 0.0
SFN 59 56 -5.1
HOU 55 52 -5.5
BAL 34 32 -5.9
SEA 67 62 -7.5
NYM 52 46 -11.5
Scouting staffs are also on the rise
SOURCES: MLB, VARIOUS TEAM MEDIA GUIDES
In fact, the recent expansion of analytics staffing doesn’t seem to have squeezed out other kinds of employees. By our count, big-league teams employed 1,246 full-time scouts in the first year of our sample,9 across all levels and specialties — pro, amateur, advance and international. This year’s media guides list 1,539 scouts — an average increase of almost 10 per team. Only five teams employ fewer scouts than they did in 2009, and of those, four were previously among the top five scout employers. No team has downsized by more than six total scouts or 12 percent of its previous force.
Although the increased ability to access information remotely may have made some advance and pro scouts redundant — or transferred their responsibilities to new, stay-at-home scouts who prep for opponents using a combination of stats and video — any modest downsizing in those areas has been more than offset by increased amateur and international coverage. For instance, the Rays — who also devote a massive head count to scouting, trailing only the Yankees and Red Sox — assign dedicated scouts to 12 countries outside the U.S., some of which haven’t historically been baseball hotbeds.10 No scouting position is permanent, but our survey uncovered scant evidence to back up claims that teams are treating scouts as obsolete relics. If anything, smart teams have learned to treat scouting grades as statistical data that can improve upon purely numbers-based evaluations, making the two perspectives even more tightly intertwined.
Given baseball’s burgeoning economy, it’s only logical that additional jobs for statheads haven’t come at scouts’ expense. Ever-rising broadcast rights and franchise valuations have caused revenue to skyrocket, and the profit has to go somewhere besides under owners’ mattresses. As revenue sharing, luxury taxes, and limits on amateur and international spending lower the ceiling on some forms of spending and shrink the payroll gaps between teams, the best option for a cash-flush club is to direct dollars away from the field. Beefing up front-office infrastructure makes acquiring, storing and applying information easier, and it allows teams to get more bang for the bucks they’re allowed to spend.
That said, there are still places where analytics hiring has a lot of room to improve. Out of 190 analysts who appeared on our list at least once, only five were female, and only three of those women are still active. Granted, the gender imbalance in baseball ops is actually less lopsided on the R&D side than in scouting, where women are even scarcer. But high-level playing experience is far from a prerequisite in R&D roles, which tells us either that teams are having trouble attracting female applicants or that they’re overlooking the qualified candidates who do apply. As Zaidi, who has since hired one of the three active female analysts, put it last year: “If I’m going to put my geek cap on, it’s a statistical impossibility … that the best candidate for every position in baseball is a middle-aged Caucasian male.”
Of course, baseball’s broadcast bubble might eventually burst, reversing the rise in revenue and forcing teams to economize. In that event, some would likely decide that stats, video and tracking systems such as Statcast and Kinetrax make scouting positions expendable, although they would probably also slash the budgets and support for their R&D staffs. Barring that type of catastrophe, though, baseball’s front-office hiring boom is unlikely to slow any time soon, since the rapid ascendance of baseball’s new school hasn’t made many teams think “out with the old.” Instead, teams have learned to synthesize information from multiple sources; even the supposedly sabermetrics-defying Kansas City Royals were aided by a talented analytics department en route to their World Series victory last season. When it comes to the search for front-office smarts, all signs still say “help wanted.”
This is very good advice even though it’s about the NFL. BTW, be sure to watch or record at least the first round of the NFL Draft. It’s instructive in regard to how teams evaluate the players they choose.
An Open Letter to the 2016 NFL Draft Class
APR 25 2016
WIDE RECEIVER / ARIZONA CARDINALS
To the Incoming NFL Draft Class of 2016,
I feel you.
I remember back when I was in your position. I felt that same excitement and the eagerness you’re experiencing right now. You’re so close, man. I also still recall the uneasiness that you’re probably feeling right now. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds. When many of you were looking at colleges, you had your pick of several schools and got to choose the right one for you. Now, all you can do is sit back, wait and hope that the right NFL team chooses you. That’s kind of daunting.
But try to take a step back and appreciate what’s about to happen. You’re going to become an employee of the most popular sports league on the planet. Not a lot of people get their dream job immediately out of college, but you’re one of the lucky few. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment on its own, and one you can take pride in forever. From this day forward, regardless of what happens next, you will always have the distinction of being drafted to play in the NFL.
OTOGRAPH BY JED JACOBSOHN/THE PLAYERS' TRIBUNE
I know many of you have been preparing for this opportunity since you were little kids. You’ve dreamt of seeing your name flash across TV screens around the country after hearing it called from the podium. That’s the payoff for a lifetime of hustle and determination. But this next leap is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. We all went through that shock early in college when you realized that you weren’t playing against high school kids anymore. You adjusted, and eventually excelled. But now in the NFL, there are no weak links. You’re playing against men – against professionals – and every single one of them is probably just as driven and passionate about this game as you are.
If you’re blowing your first paycheck on flashy jewelry and taking out credit lines that you don’t even fully understand, you need someone to give you a damn wake up call.
If you’re a competitor, this is truly the opportunity of a lifetime. The NFL is the highest level of competition there is, and if you can prove it here, you’ll be remembered forever. There’s just no way to replicate Sundays. There’s nothing more satisfying than putting in the work throughout the course of the week — in the film room and on the practice field — and then going out there in front of tens of thousands of fans and millions of people on TV and showcasing your talent. That feeling of executing a game plan to perfection is a rush unlike any other. And if you can do that on a consistent basis, the rewards are numerous. Being big man on campus is great, but if you become a starter in the NFL that is a different level of notoriety entirely.
The past few weeks, I’m sure you’ve been reading different things online about your strengths and weaknesses as a player. You’ve spent your whole life playing this game, and people are trying to predict your future based on one drill you ran in a stuffy dome or on one measurement that came up an inch or two below average. I know this is easier said than done, but try to shut that stuff out. Nobody has a deeper understanding of your abilities than you do. You wouldn’t have made it this far if you weren’t your own harshest critic. Regardless of how good you are, and how good you eventually become, there will always be doubters. Don’t cloud your mind with what they say. You’ll have your chance to prove them wrong on the field.
Just as you should ignore the bad things said about you, it’s just as important not to buy into your own hype either. I never had any yes-men surround me when I was coming up. I only kept people around who were gonna keep it real with me — keep it 100, so to speak. All these years later I truly appreciate how important it was for me to stay close with people who weren’t constantly patting me on the back or telling me I was all that. If you do something bad, you need to have people in your life to call you out on it. If you’re blowing your first paycheck on flashy jewelry and taking out credit lines that you don’t even fully understand, you need someone to give you a damn wake up call. When I came into the league, I worked hard to keep my inner circle both small and honest. I recommend that you do the same. Some people won’t make the cut, but that’s just life.
OGRAPH BY BOSE
I should tell you that the moment when you get the phone call that you’ve been waiting your whole life for — the one from the team that has selected you — well, it’s just as special as you’ve imagined. Maybe even beyond what you’ve imagined.
I didn’t attend the 2004 draft in person. Instead, I rented out a ballroom at a hotel and filled it with all the people who had been with me since Day One. When Dennis Green and Rod Graves called to tell me they were going to select me third overall, it was a surreal moment. At once, everyone in the ballroom, all the people I was closest to, erupted in cheers. People I love were shouting, crying and dancing around. It felt like we had all accomplished something great. It’s your name that gets called on draft day, but always remember that there were a lot of people who helped you along in your journey. This is a big day not only for you, but also for everyone who’s ever known you. That’s pretty cool.
Now this next part is particularly important.
Once you are picked, take a little time to celebrate, but then shift your focus to making sure that just getting drafted doesn’t turn out to be the biggest accomplishment of your professional career.
In regards to that, here’s a little advice.
When you do join your team for your rookie season, make sure you keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.
When I first came to the Cardinals, I tried to make sure I only caught the attention of the veterans because of my play on the field. I was fortunate to share a locker room with Emmitt Smith, and I was struck by the way he conducted himself. This guy was the leading rusher in NFL history, and he played 14 years in this league. I figured he must know a lot of things I didn’t, so I watched him closely. I watched the way he ate, how he trained and how he generally handled himself on a day-to-day basis. I learned so much just from watching Emmitt, and I’m really thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from him.
When you do join your team for your rookie season, make sure you keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.
I advise you to find a guy on your new team that’s had the kind of career you’d like to experience, and then spend your first year in the league just observing him. Don’t badger him with questions (unless he’s open to that sort of thing), but instead make a note of the things he does right and try to replicate them. If you do things the right way, your teammates will notice and you’ll gain their respect.
I’ve worked with several guys who worked extremely hard. Two of the best players on our team right now are Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they were also two of the hardest working rookies I’ve ever been around. You never heard a thing from either of those guys. Never. They didn’t speak a lot, but when it came to practice and conditioning, they were always first. First guys in the building, last guys to leave. They had the mindset that they were going to come in and be productive players. They didn’t say it, they showed it. That’s a good example to follow.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JED JACOBSOHN/THE PLAYERS' TRIBUNE
Right now I’m sure many of you are daydreaming about what your life might be like if you get selected by a particular team. Thinking about where you’ll live, what it will be like to play for the coach and how you might mesh with the roster. All those possibilities running through your head at once can be overwhelming, but the truth is that this likely won’t be the last time in your professional career that you’ll have no idea where you’ll be playing next.
Uncertainty is a fact of this job. It’s the nature of the business. I’ve been fortunate to stay with one team for my entire career, but that doesn’t happen very often. If you have a long career in this league, it’s likely that you’ll make a few stops along the way. Fortunately, there are lots of great organizations out there. Every snap you take in this league is on your résumé. They’re watched not only by your team, but also by every other front office in the NFL. If you work hard and focus on your craft, even if one team doesn’t think you fit into their plans, there’s a chance another team will.
I understand the draft process is exhausting, but the real work is just about to begin. Continue to push yourself to become a better athlete and a better person every day. And recognize that you are now a pillar of your community. A lot of kids are going to look up to you, so recognize that and try to serve as a good example for them. Be an asset to your organization on and off the field, and you’ll have a very long career in this league. I promise you that.
Congratulations for what you’ve accomplished thus far and for what’s to come. You’ve earned it.
See you on Sunday,